When I attended the University of Oregon, I was the editor of a libertarian-leaning opinion magazine. I argued forcefully — often vulgarly — against government power. If you’re not familiar with the political makeup of most public college campuses, this went over about as well as a plate of pickled pigs feet at a kosher potluck.
The liberal students I debated with often responded to my arguments with equal parts smug condescension and amusement. I obviously was too much of a whacko, knee-jerk anti-government nut, they concluded, to understand the finer points of the social contract and government authority. Government is just the collective will of the people, they sighed, not a leviathan.
Funny, then, how many of my generation suddenly discovered in the past week or so that state-sponsored violence exists. The most egregious example came yesterday at UC Davis, where a police officer pepper-sprayed a group of protesters who were sitting peacefully on the ground.
Surprising, I assume, because they weren’t paying attention or were not part of a minority group frequently targeted by police. Not surprising to me. I’ve been reading about this kind of thing — excessive force, no-knock drug raids, warrantless search and seizure, evidence suppression — for several years now.
I suppose one of the nice parts about being “knee-jerk anti-government” is I don’t have to deal with any surprise or cognitive dissonance in situations like UC Davis. Despite my disagreements with the Occupy movement’s rhetoric, tactics and goals — e.g. protesting for more of the same government that pepper sprays them in the face — I’ll never condone or apologize for police brutality. Excessive police force is wrong. Always.
Nor do I have to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to ask, “Where have our civil liberties gone?” while simultaneously supporting politicians and policies that expand the size of the very government suppressing those rights.
Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic Obama “Hope” poster, released a new poster today in support of Occupy Wall Street. The poster reads, “Mister President, we HOPE you’re on our side.” In a statement, Fairey calls Obama “a potential ally of the Occupy movement.”
This, as Reason editor Nick Gillespie points out, is depressing.
That Fairey would consider Obama a potential ally shows either willful disregard or flat-out ignorance of what the president has actually done since taking office. This is the president who voted for the bank bailouts while in the Senate. This is the president who has continued, if not accelerated, the previous administration’s line on foreign policy, the drug war and state secrets. This is the president who ordered the assassination of two American citizens without due process via Predator Drone. This is the president who received the most Wall Street donations of any candidate in history in 2008. This is the president who continues to hold fundraisers with Wall Street executives, such as the head of bankrupt Wall Street firm MF Global, which is under investigation for misappropriating $600 million of its customers’ money.
It’s abundantly clear where Obama stands, and it’s not with Occupy Wall Street.
It’s alright, though. Every generation of idealists has to learn on its own that, when the chips are on the table, government is not “another word for the things we choose to do together” or a synonym for national greatness, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pseudo-fascistically suggests in her “Lean Forward” commercials.
One more quick trip down memory lane: Those same college friends who are now outraged and likely shouting about the “corporate police state”* also argued with me that there was no reason to own a handgun because we can just call the police for protection. When I suggested the Second Amendment was more than just protection against random criminals — in fact largely intended as a defense against threats to liberty both foreign and domestic — they laughed at me. Such fear of the government was incomprehensible to them.
I would say I’m the one laughing now, except I’m not.**
* “Corporate police state” is a term I find particularly amusing and illustrative of the OWS crowd’s misplaced ire. The corporations the protesters are railing against don’t care if they camp in public parks or march in the streets, insofar as they don’t disrupt those companies’ productivity. The government cares. Mayors, many of them Democrats, are the ones who ordered the evictions of the Occupy encampments. Putting aside the question of whether or not illegally camping in a public space is a First Amendment right, it was the the courts, not Wall Street fat cats, who upheld those orders. Police, vested with authority by the government, not K Street lobbyists, are the ones who enforced those orders.
** I’m not suggesting violence against police or armed revolution in any way here, merely that there is a very real reason the drafters of the Constitution did not leave the people’s security solely in the hands of the state.